Another One Bites the Dust: Founders National Bank

Posted by on Oct 9, 2018 in Mod Blog |

text, current photos, matchcover, and playing cards by Lynne Rostochil.  Vintage images by Bob Bowlby, Oklahoma History Center, and Julius Shulman.

Today, the Okie Mod Squad group is mourning the loss of one of Oklahoma City’s most beloved buildings, the gloriously mod Founders National Bank located at May and United Founders Boulevard.

It’s sickening to think that we won’t get to enjoy this elegant arched building anymore and will instead be viewing some ugly box store, gas station, or strip mall on the site.  Oklahoma City has certainly lost an important piece of its distinctive architectural character that can never be replaced.  To let the impact of this sink in, let’s take a look back at the lighter-than-air Founders National Bank in better days.  The following is from a Mod Blog we wrote a few years ago that was devoted to the building’s architect, Bob Bowlby:

Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on Oklahoma City’s suburban expansion, movie theater owner, Jerry Barton, who also sat on the board of Founders National Bank, decided that the area around N. May and Northwest Expressway would be the perfect place to construct a new bank building that would serve the quickly growing suburban area.  Once the board approved his idea, Barton enlisted the services of (former Bruce Goff student) Robert Alan Bowlby to design the new bank, giving the young architect free reign to create something bold and unique.

Bowlby’s bold and elegant design for the new bank, which opened in 1964, incorporated the use of two 50-foot exterior arches that supported the building and removed the need for interior walls altogether.  This allowed for expansive, open spaces inside that gave the structure an exuberant feeling of lightness, so light it seemed the entire building could lift up and fly away with the breezy Oklahoma wind if not for the giant arches tethering it to the ground.

Other distinctive features of the bank included a concave, floating roof that provided a substantial amount of indirect lighting; large floor-to-ceiling windows that made the interior spaces look much larger than they really were, and a century-old, 16-ton vault door shipped from Toledo, Ohio, that both protected the bank’s assets and became the focal point of the otherwise modern lobby:

When LA-based architectural photographer, Julius Shulman arrived in Oklahoma City to take images of Herb Greene’s Cunningham House in 1964, he asked Bowlby, who was also an architectural photographer, to assist him during his stay.  The two spent the next three days photographing the home and other buildings, during which time Bowlby drove the always-curious photographer to the recently completed Founders National Bank.  Shulman was immediately intrigued by the bank’s unique design, as well as the photographic possibilities it presented, and added the building to his list of structures to shoot while he was in town.  On the last day of his visit, Shulman and Bowlby headed over to Founders National Bank just before dusk one evening, and the famed camera man captured the stunning building in all of its dramatic glory just as the sun was setting in a cloudless sky:

There was also a cute drive-thru:

The building’s unique design was so popular that it graced the covers of matchbooks and playing cards distributed by the bank over the next two decades:

In the 1980s, the glass wall around the perimeter of the building was removed to increase the office space, and a brick surround took its place.  With the addition, the building has certainly lost its lighter-than-air feeling, but, luckily, the iconic arches and roofline remained:

In 1992, Boatmen’s purchased Founders and then a few years later, NationsBank bought Boatmen’s and then Bank of America took over NationsBank.  Bank of America remained in the former Founders building until August 2017.  The building and the surrounding undeveloped area were listed for sale in October 2017 and it was demolished today, supposedly to make the cleared site more attractive to developers:

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

RIP, beautiful Founders Bank.